‘This is just the beginning’ says UK’s first female Muslim referee from Wembley
- Credit: Archant
Among the dreams of the UK’s first female Muslim referee, who flew into Brent as a child, is to inspire women to pursue football as a career.
Jawahir Roble, known as JJ by her friends, has smashed all barriers to become a full-time coach and referee for local youth teams.
The 26-year-old could only dream of wearing a football shirt where she was born in Somalia, but everything changed when she boarded a plane with her family, aged 10.
The fourth of nine siblings, JJ’s passion and determination brought positive changes to her Neasden school so she could play with her friends, and led to coincidences that would set her on her way.
“I feel like I have very much work to do; this is just the beginning for me,” she said. “I want to leave a legacy and inspire as many girls as possible to pursue football as a career. I am so excited about what the future holds.”
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Her first barrier of course was her culture. There were no female Muslim football players in Somalia and for many years her parents were concerned.
“My parents were scared [about] what other parents were thinking and worried I’d be judged by other parents; but now, because other parents are happy, they are proud of me. It’s nice we are on the same page and they are encouraging me now,” she said. But the dream was there “from day one”.
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“When I lived in Somalia I’d never seen or heard of a female player; I just knew Brazilian players. I thought ‘surely I can do that’. I didn’t have a football top to wear because that was pushing it.
“Going on the plane was the best part, a whole new country with different people from different backgrounds, this country was so diverse and nice. I couldn’t speak a word of the language.”
The family moved several times within Brent as they settled in England. “In Wembley we lived five minutes’ walk from the stadium. You can see it from anywhere in Brent, I’m so proud to be from Brent.”
At Chalkhill Primary School in Wembley, and John Kelly Technical College, now Crest Academy, in Neasden, she soon found friends and learned the language.
“I realised early that kids that got attention are kids with the ball. My siblings and I all went to the same school so we got a ball to share.
“They liked football but they weren’t playing with me when I was playing in the playground and kids were coming up to me.”
JJ and her friends played in their “school shoes early in the morning”, at break time, lunch time and after school.
“I went to the head teacher and asked if we could have two goals and the head teacher listened.
“The playground was the pitch and I told the head to tell the girls who were sunbathing on the pitch to move out. We used to get into a lot of trouble because of our fights - ‘you move’, ‘no, you move’ - that kind of thing.”
In Year 9, aged 13, and wearing her headscarf, she “had to accept reality [that] I’ll never be able to play” as football organisation FIFA did not allow players with head accessories onto the pitch until 2015.
A top England player also came to the school: “I spoke to Rachel Yankee and she told me there was such a thing as coaching, that I could coach, do a lot of things, she said ‘JJ do your thing’, and from there I wanted to become a coach.”
She dropped out of studying A Levels to pursue her goal, and couldn’t keep up with an IT course at technical college as she was “distracted” by her coaching commitments.
It was while she was volunteering at Middlesex Capital Girls’ Team as a coach for youth teams that she was invited to referee.
“I was scared, even though I knew a lot about football, refereeing was different. I was told ‘you know about football, you know the rules, just facilitate it’ and people appreciated it.”
She completed a referee course and today does both coaching and refereeing for organisations such as Football Beyond Borders and the Jason Roberts Foundation in Stonebridge.
“One day I want to become the top-level referee, premiership referee, champions league, I want to go all out. No-one’s stopping me.”
Zaffar Van Kalwala, who organises the Brent Super Cup tournament, said: “Jawahir Roble is great inspiration for everyone in Brent.
“She has shown that with courage, sacrifice, determination and commitment you can achieve all your goals and ambitions.
“I am really looking forward to working with Jawahir so she can inspire even more children and young people in our local borough.”